Okinawa (Part I)

May 14

A classmate recently forwarded an inquiry from her husband regarding my military “career.”  I then realized I had never inflicted that history upon any alleged followers of this blog.  So, here it begins – but you can’t blame me.  A brief summary of my time on Okinawa led off a blog post on March 20, 2012, italicized in the following two paragraphs.

[Self-portrait, in my Army barracks room with my Honeywell Pentax SLR camera with multiple lenses, Ft. Buckner, USASTRATCOM (a/k/a Communications), Okinawa, 1971 (Oy, my Minnesota ‘rithmetic tells me that was 41 [now 48] years ago?)]


In the summer of 1969, I received a very special invitation from Mr. Percy Unumb.  Mr. Unumb was the Alexandria draft board, and he advised me that I was about to spend the next couple of years of my life in the service of our country.  Now I always thought Mr. Unumb had a perfect name for his position, particularly in a time of war, because when you received his invitation, “you numb.”  While the Vietnam War and its era are beyond my abilities to comment upon here, I can report from a personal standpoint I was incredibly fortunate to have spent my entire Army 2-year career on Okinawa.

For military personnel not in a war zone at the time, one of the requirements (as written in your employment contract) was to purchase the camera and stereo equipment to last a lifetime.  Most of us did . . . and most of it would have.  And thus began my stellar “career” as a photojournalist – meaning some of the time I carried a camera around with me.


I began my life as a soldier in August 1969 with basic training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  Two months later I was off for two months of advanced individual training (AIC) in communications at Fort Gordon, Georgia.  While at Fort Gordon, it snowed for the first time in some 50+ years and I watched the Vikings lose their first Super Bowl.  After graduation from communications school, it was off to Okinawa (maps above and below), 7,000 miles from home, where I was stationed from February 1970 to February 1972.  I will further delve into the whys, what fors, and where fors of Okinawa in future episodes . . .


[Now looking back in the archives, I can’t remember what I did in my first 7 months on Okinawa.  That likely means it took me that long to buy my “camera for life.”  But these black and white photos began in August 1970, and this first shot is towards the East China Sea from our barracks in Sukiran.]

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[Okinawa is only about 70 miles long and 2-17 miles wide.  Sukiran (Camp Zukeran on upcoming maps) is within and/or adjacent to the city of Futema (south central on the map) and about equidistant between the island’s two largest cities, the capital city Naha to the south and Okinawa (then, and forever after herein, Koza) to the north . . . ]


[Looking across the street from our barracks to other buildings and facilities within Sukiran – movie theater to the left, gym to the right, and shops and our NCO club (great tuna salad on toast sandwiches) in the middle mall area . . . ]

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[Looking further to the left from previous photo – the movie theater now on the right, other military barracks, and the East China Sea in the distance.  I will give the Army credit – they showed M*A*S*H, the movie, at the theater . . . ]

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[Life in the open barracks.  I actually remember this guy’s name was John Morton.  I didn’t know him well, so why do I remember his name?  Like a lot of guys in the communications field, a somewhat nerdy/geeky college type – such guys were useful sources when shopping for cameras, stereos, et al . . . ]

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[Don’t remember him, but all barracks seemed to have guitar players . . . ]

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[In the immediate foreground was the paratrooper barracks just below ours.  Unlike us “office” types, they actually had to do army stuff.  Down at the bottom of the hill was a fieldhouse . . . ]

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[This was our workplace.  Ft. Buckner was a top secret communications facility just a short drive from our barracks – by regular shuttle buses or you could drive if you had a car . . . ]

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[This was the downhill drive from Ft. Buckner to our barracks.  My first car there was a 1965 Mazda which at full power could go about 10 mph up this hill to work . . . ]

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[From our barracks . . . ]

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[We lived in open bays.  Okinawa is a subtropical island, ala Hawaii, thus it could get a little hot.  Air conditioning was sticking a leg out from under the covers.  Since communications was a 24/7, 3-shift operation, there were always guys sleeping – you learned to do it amongst all the activity.  When you made it to an E-5 level (specialist 5th class or buck sergeant), you could move into two person rooms which was like moving to the Ritz . . . ]

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[Another cool nerdy/geeky guy whose name I can’t remember, but he’s set up back-to-back reel-to-reel tape decks to record from one to the other . . . ]

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[Remember him but not his name – I believe I read Kirby on his fatigue name tag . . . ]

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[Rain coming in?]

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[The bottom middle is a backboard – played a lot of basketball on that court . . . ]

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[On top of the hill, “Top of the Rock,” the officer’s club . . . ]

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[Our neighborhood, again . . . ]

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[These guys were the local braintrust regarding all things electronic . . . ]

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[And this is where I discovered I wasn’t in Alexandria, Minnesota, anymore.  This is Koza, our nearby big city, with a population of 138,000 . . . ]

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[This brings back a lot of memories, my first contacts outside my cultural comfort zone.  I loved it . . . ]

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[I’m thinking these had to be taken from Koza versions of skywalks . . . ]

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[I played a lot of handball – real men played handball and not racquetball.  Handball turned your hands into calloused feet!]

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[This is Wayne Coleman, my regular playing partner.  We hung out together a lot.  But he went home, to North Carolina, long before I did, and we just lost touch . . . ]

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[I went home for my only leave in August 1971.  We stopped at Hawaii on the way home.  I took a photo of Diamond Head from the Honolulu airport that may appear sometime in future posts.  Home then was Arlington, Virginia, and this is my brother Chris, then 19 and a true peacenik . . . ]

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[When your camera has a bellows . . . ]

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[Yup, still have these.  I was drafted . . . ]

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[What the army does to your body . . . ]

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[It seemed I ate well, but I was 6-feet tall and weighed 150 pounds.  I could slide under doors . . . ]

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[I remember him but not his name . . . ]

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[It’s hard to believe that to reach retirement age I had to put on 80 pounds?]

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[Going topless reduces laundry expenses . . . ]

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[Oh, I could generate a grin, at least . . . ]

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[Back to the locals. I’m going to throw in the Wikipedia report of the Koza riots of September 1970.  This photo was some time after that, but the Okinawans regularly protested our continuing occupation of their country 25 years after the end of WWII. . . . ]

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[Despite what you see here, there was never any problem about GI’s going out and about in the local economy . . . unless.  Occasionally, a GI would stay out too long at a bar, do something unlawful, leading to protest marches.  I think our base was under Condition Green (or was it Red), meaning GI’s had to be back on base by midnight, the whole time I was there . . . ]

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[I left the island in February 1972.  In May 1972, the U.S. turned Okinawa over to Japan.  (Maybe my leaving had something to do with that?)  But the locals weren’t particularly happy over that either.  They wanted total autonomy for themselves – they are not Japanese, they are Ryukyuans.  And then after 25 years of driving on the right, they had to change to left side driving . . . ]

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[Views I believe of Futema . . . ]

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[With a Ferris wheel on the roof of what I believe was the East West Export store . . . ]

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Free The Army

[In this section, we’ll visit the FTA tour performance on Okinawa in 1971.  And while the military tried to make it difficult to attend, it did not prevent us from doing so.  Lest you forgot, following is an LA Times report on the tour.  I think the anti-war aspect was largely supported by our soldiers – we were mostly draftees, were opposed to the war, and any attempt to bring it to an end was appreciated.  Shortly that general desire led to a troop draw down, many soldiers in Vietnam were transferred to Okinawa to finish their tours, and even then many got general early outs – including me, 6 months early.

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[Donald Sutherland and Michael Alaimo . . . ]

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[Holly Near and Jane Fonda on the right . . . ]

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[Methinks that’s Rita Martinson and Paul Mooney on the left . . . ]

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[It was a bit of a rag-tag, improv performance, but we all enjoyed it . . . ]

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[Alaimo, Fonda, Mooney, Martinson, Sutherland, and Len Chandler . . . ]

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[Fonda and Near skit . . . ]

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[Sutherland and Alaimo . . . ]

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[Everything happened on a make-do stage – from skit and costume changes, to filming, to music . . . ]

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[Chandler . . . ]

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[Certainly my most unique army experience . . . ]

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[And the locals on the periphery . . . ]

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[I can’t remember if this was a pay event or a come one-come all?]

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[Sutherland was great . . . ]

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[As was Near, pretty much at the start of her career . . . ]

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[A mixture of locals and GI’s in the audience . . . ]

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[Sutherland begins to wrap up . . . ]

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[I have to find the movie!]

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[Chandler solos . . . ]

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[Then they all sing off . . . ]

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[A final sketches on the military . . . ]

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[The GI audience, who could be stationed there with their wives . . . ]

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[A local music group, which I did not remember . . . ]

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[Thanks . . . ]

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[Arigatogozaimashita . . . ]

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[And sayonara!]

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Military guys are rarely as smart as they think they are, and they’ve never gotten over the fact that civilians run the military.  ~  Maureen Dowd

Up Next:  Maybe track; maybe Okinawa

2 thoughts on “Okinawa (Part I)

  1. Wow, amazing photos. The military guys all looked so young and undernourished and Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda also looked like they could use a good meal.


  2. l was there. My Band had already booked the place, so Donald and Jane needed a crowd so once they found out about my band (TLA) they booked ahead of us. (the beat-up truck on the left, was our equipment truck)

    Liked by 1 person

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